When MSU Professor Kurt Dewhurst remembers Nelson Mandela, he thinks with a smile of the supportive relationship his employer had with a country thousands of miles away.
"A lot of the work that came out of the years of supporting the liberation struggle," said Dewhurst, sitting in front of a quilt made in support of South African women who stayed by Mandela's side. "And the years now after, the relationships are even stronger than they've ever been between this university and South Africa."
It's a relationship that dates back 35 years. MSU stood with the South Africans by divesting its Apartheid-held stocks.
Mandela died Thursday at age 95. His life was a struggle against the racist apartheid. He spent 27 years in jail before becoming president.
"He set a kind of high moral standard that we all admire no matter where you come from," said Dewhurst. "He's become not only an icon in South Africa and the father of South Africa as he's known, but also he's been a model for political leadership and I'd like to think for moral leadership of a better world."
Christine Root is project director of the African Activist Archive, a website that chronicles American and foreign support for Mandela's movement. She received the news of Mandela's death with mixed feelings.
I felt deeply sad but also very grateful for his life," she said. "He will remain for a long time an inspiration to a lot of people for his great leadership abilities and the crucial roles he played over decades in the struggle against apartheid."
His legacy remains strong at MSU. The campus museum has a formal relationship with the Nelson Mandela Museum of South Africa. MSU offers seven study abroad programs to the country, and its African Studies program is the largest in the United States.
In 2008, MSU bestowed an honorary degree on Mandela.
"Through his vision, courage and humanity, Nelson Mandela was a leader not just for South Africa, but for the world," MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon said in a statement Thursday. "Michigan State is honored to have worked in support of his initiatives as part of our long and deep involvement on the continent of Africa. As we move forward, we will continue to strive to honor Mandela's legacy in the work we do here in Michigan, in Africa and around the world."